Education Career Services

June 1, 2010

Resume Language: Grammar, Consistency, and Point of View

Although the rules of grammar, such as parallel sentence structure, consistency, and punctuation, do apply, the statements we create for resumes are somewhat fragments in bullet or paragraph form simply because we eliminate the pronouns (he/she, you, we).  However, this doesn’t mean correct grammar in any other sense of the word should be absent.  Above all things (along with accuracy), grammar adds to the professionalism of any document. 

What would you be more inclined to read—a document filled with glaring errors or a document that reads smoothly?  Keep in mind that people who read resumes on a daily basis, such as human resources professionals, hiring managers, and executives, probably see a whirlwind of poorly-written documents one right after the other.  And although applicants may not be writers by profession, they are expected to know and apply basic rules.  Otherwise, that resume is at risk of automatically going into the “no” pile.

When creating a resume, always keep your target readers in mind.  Are these people going to be able to read this without tripping over ideas or punctuation?  Are they going to understand what I meant to say there?  Because resume writing differs from most other types of writing, we need to make sure it is clear and concise (without being overwhelmingly choppy).  For instance:

Option 1
                * Responsible for the automation department and a $100M budget; led 45 personnel in system testing and verification; managed relationships with vendors.

Option 2
                * Oversaw automation department, controlling $100M budget, leading 45-person team in system testing and verification, and managing vendor relationships.

They both say the exact same thing, but Option 2 lets the reader flow with the sentence as opposed to stopping at every semicolon and also connects ideas/responsibilities in one sentence.  The use of the comma after “department” and before “controlling” connects the second part of the sentence to the main idea, which is overseeing the automation department. 

According to the Professional Association of Resume Writers (PARW), the use of either third-person or first-person is fine as long as it is consistent throughout the document.  Why eliminate these words?  Again, it enables the reader to flow with the document as opposed to feeling like they are reading a biography or letter.  Since they are more concerned about the value they can get from the applicant, they need something they can skim through.  Being consistent is important because the omission of pronouns can confuse the reader if it suddenly switches from first- to third-person.   Using Option 1 from above: “[I was/he was] responsible for the automation department and a $100M budget; [I/he] led 45 personnel in system testing and verification; [I/he] managed vendor relationships.”  Although they both work in this instance, it does not always.  As an example:

First-person: [I am a]Senior Executive offering world-class experience in sales, business development, partnership building, and operations leadership.  [I] Create strategies to reach target consumers while expanding profitability through product development improvements. 

Third-person: [He is a] Senior Executive offering world-class experience in sales, business development, partnership building, and operations leadership.  [He] Creates strategies to reach target consumers while expanding profitability though product development improvements.

Generally, the third-person approach is more commonly used and has its advantages in terms of easier readability for your target audience.  Consistency in all areas of your resume is vital, including spelling, capitalization, punctuation, spacing, and font, because you don’t want to confuse readers.  The only questions you want them to ask are, Could you provide me with more information? or When are you available for an interview?

Sigmarie Soto, CPRW
Head Writer – Career Services International

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